We asked a doctor to weigh in.

By Lauren Wellbank
July 21, 2021
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It can be tempting to skip a planned workout once your fitness tracker notes that you have hit 10,000 steps for the day, but according to medical experts, you might not want to post up on the couch just yet. The reason? There are a lot of variables when it comes to steps, such as the nature of your activity (did you run uphill to clock those steps?) or the intensity of your workout. Ahead, Dr. Kien Vuu, a performance and longevity doctor, dives deeper into this commonly asked question.

Close-up of women's sport shoes running outdoors
Credit: RuslanDashinsky / Getty Images

Is one really better than the other?

When it comes to your health, no exercise solution is one size fits all—and it really shouldn't come down to choosing between walking or a workout, says Dr. Vuu, who typically recommends a mix of activities to his patients. "[Taking] 10,000 steps per day usually means that you are relatively active, which is important. However, it doesn't measure the intensity of exercise, which is also important," he says. "Aerobic activities that raise your heart rate and strength and resistance training are both keys to longevity." Blood-pumping activities are believed to significantly lower your risk of heart disease, which Dr. Vuu says is the number one cause of death around the world; strength training builds muscle, the most metabolically active tissue in our body, he notes, and is another component of optimal health.

Upgrade your 30 minutes of movement.

When it comes to achieving the best 30 minutes of exercise possible, Dr. Vuu says choosing high intensity interval training (HIIT) activities are best, since they combine both aerobic exercise and strength training. "This type of exercise has benefits of cardiovascular protection and lean muscle building," he affirms. Whether you're doing them at the gym, or following along with a program at home, the benefits of HIIT exercises truly can't be beat.

Keep tracking your steps.

This doesn't mean that you should stop keeping track of those daily steps. This number indicates whether or not you're remaining too sedentary, and it can be a good motivator to get up and move (or complete that 30 minutes of exercise!). If you're someone who relies on a fitness tracker to count your steps, you'll be happy to know that Dr. Vuu says they are reasonably accurate at tracking other important health metrics. "Although not perfect, fitness trackers do a reasonable job of providing physiological data for the body," he says. "They have variable accuracy when tracking steps taken, heart rate, heart rate variability, and sleep." Dr. Vuu's recommendation is to use these devices to track trends in your physiological data, which they do well, rather than relying on them to give you precise information, which you don't necessarily need, he concludes.

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